Three weeks ago, my sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl. I watched in shock as my new little niece nursed happily in her arms. My sister’s successful start at breastfeeding intrigued me because she kept it simple; with great results.
We are sisters yet we are complete opposites. I had poured over Dr. Sears’s work and attended La Leche League meetings while pregnant. I had a doula by my side in the birthing room and studied intensely during my twelve week Bradley Method childbirth course. I treated birthing like an exam. If mothering was a test, I planned to pass with flying colors. I smile now because my daughter is three years old, and the best teacher has been hands-on experience.
My breastfeeding story was full of obstacles. A bad initial latch resulted in sore nipples and marathon pumping sessions to keep up my milk supply. When she reached three months old, just as we began to master our momma-baby nursing dance, we both developed thrush. After a month of battling the yeast infection occupying my baby’s mouth and my breasts, the evil thrush monster was defeated. Surely, we were in the clear. All of our hard work would not be in vain! However, when my little one was seven months old, I was admitted to the hospital for a kidney infection. The staff insisted that I take the strongest antibiotic possible. It would cure me while leaving my milk unsuitable for breastfeeding.
I refused the potent medication and took the weakest antibiotic possible. We had come too far to turn back. I deserved to enjoy breastfeeding my baby. Armed with the knowledge I had gained from nursing support groups and websites, I was able to advocate for myself and for my child. Despite our trials, my daughter nursed until she was two years old. The challenging start was far behind us and I was grateful for a nursing relationship that grew between my husband, my daughter, and myself.
When my sister announced that she was pregnant, I lent her my most prized texts. However, I wasn’t surprised when I visited her apartment and saw the books piled in a corner, dusty and unopened. She was very relaxed in her birthing preparations. To her, the theme of the baby’s nursery was more important than the rate of episiotomies performed by her OBGYN; and yet, my sister breastfeeds.
They are home now, safe and healthy. I sit next to them on the sofa. My preschool daughter, Maya, wiggles in my lap. My little niece begins to fuss and my sister moves to undo her nursing bra. I whisper, “I’m so proud of you. You’re doing such a good job. Everything that you could hope for is happening. The baby is gaining weight, you’re not sore, and when you do pump, you’re pumping full bottles.”
While our approaches were different, the result was the same: happy, healthy breastfed babies. Her decision to nurse, her dedication to making it work, may have been due to my modeling and support. Perhaps that was more valuable than any article written by Ina Mae Gaskin. And as a big sister, I am happy. Proud even. I had exposed her to the world of breastfeeding and all the benefits it brings. Most amazingly, despite all of the challenges she watched me endure, she decided that breastfeeding was a journey worthy of her efforts.
LaToya Carbonell is a member of the Broward County Breastfeeding Coalition. She lives in South Florida with her husband and daughter. She can be reached at email@example.com